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Lincoln vs. George W. Bush

Father Abraham: Lincoln's Relentless Struggle to End Slavery

by Richard Striner

How will historians eventually rate our incumbent president as a wartime commander? A comparison of George W. Bush and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, is instructive.

Putting aside the issue of civil liberties in wartime —— an issue that people of good will could debate almost endlessly —— Lincoln was a very different kind of presidential strategist.

In the first place, Lincoln wanted massive and fully equipped armies to fight the Confederates. All through the war he told his generals to use their great superiority in numbers to the maximum advantage. In contrast, Bush seemed to give short shrift to all the warnings that the American troop levels in Iraq were insufficient.

Then there’s the matter of financial wherewithal. Lincoln asked Congress for the colossal sum of $400 million (in 1861 values) when the war began. Congress gave him more than he asked for. The Republicans created the first direct income tax in our history and raised even more federal revenue through the sale of bonds. As they financed the war, they invested simultaneously in infrastructure by supporting the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Money was no object for Lincoln: toward the end of the war he even flirted with the notion of assuring the ratification of the anti-slavery thirteenth amendment by paying all the slave states to ratify —— to the tune of an additional $400 million. Lincoln thought big and he was willing to spend enormous sums when the nation’s well-being seemed to warrant it. Bush, on the other hand, has stripped Uncle Sam of resources by advocating tax cuts right in the middle of a major war.

Then, there’s the issue of worst-case contingency planning. Lincoln usually chose to prepare for the worst: he liked to have some back-up plans up his sleeve since he never presumed that his strategies were perfect or foolproof. Though he fought aggressive war, he also urged his commanders to watch their backs and sides, lest the enemy turn the tables. In 1862 he wrote to General George McClellan as follows: "In case of disaster, would not a safe retreat be more difficult by your plan than by mine?" In 1864, he wrote to General Ulysses S. Grant as follows: "I am a little afraid lest Lee sends re-enforcements to [General Jubal] Early, and thus enables him to turn upon Sheridan."

Is it likely that Bush had any back-up plans in the event that his Iraq strategies should fail?

Lastly, there’s the matter of moral purpose and conscience: though Lincoln felt a righteous sense of justification, he consulted his conscience all the time. He took the ironies of his position quite seriously, and he felt himself humbled by the human cost of the war. Though it’s hard to tell from a distance, Bush displays little in the way of a conscience, except in matters of fundamentalist theology. Notwithstanding his pledge of humility at the Republican convention in 2000, he comes off as smug. Self-doubt seldom figures in his thinking, or so it would appear.

The spiritual convictions of Lincoln eventually led him to view the Civil War as a punishment inflicted on the North and South alike for their vainglorious pride. Bush, on the other hand, seems cocky when he chooses to invoke religious values in his politics.

In all, it’s a depressing comparison —— is it not? But only time will reveal the hidden record in regard to our incumbent.

Richard Striner is the author of Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery.

Recent Comments

  1. Roddy McCorley

    I love the specious Lincoln comparisons. Because Bush & Lincoln both played fast and loose with the Constitution, Bush must be just like Lincoln. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s response to a great national emergency was not limited to abrogating rights — which Bush’s seems to be. It is the height of absurdity and ignorance to compare a pampered child of privelege to a man who worked hard, worked with his hands, built himself up, and cared deeply about his fellow citizens.

  2. Rob

    Lincoln, although gifted with enormous abilty and intelligence was also a man of humility, a humility born of honesty and deep introspection. How ironic and tragic for our nation, to be saddled now with a president of little abilty or intelligence (aside from a snake like cunning in politics and a prodigious gift for deceit) coupled with limitless narcissistic self regard.
    God help us.

  3. Michael Bough

    I think we should also consider the BIG difference. Lincoln was fighting a war that there actually was a chance of losing. Further, the loss of this war would result in the collapse of the republic. The pressure on this great man clearly was incomparable to that on Augustus C-plus.

  4. john brady

    Bush-Lincoln comparison is very apt. One should compare criticms: Both men were called ‘unintelligent’, both were said to resemble apes, both were accused of fighting unnecessary wars, both were accused to trying to become dictators, both refused to return criticism of their enemies. Lincoln put his rivals in cabinet positions. Bush resurrected pathetic Clinton by making him part of the Tsunami Relief team. Both operated out of principle and concern for the Republic. Lincoln was ahead of his time in seeing slavery as barbaric. Bush is ahead of his time in seeing abortion as barbaric. Both men tackled the biggest of issues head on without regard to the political consequences.
    Lincoln is considered among the greatest presidents in history. Bush will be, likewise considered among the greatest. Mark it down.

  5. Ashley Tillock

    Bush is a dick thats all there is to it, he lied to the american people and he knew that the WTC was going to be attacked because…the people that was working for him (your government) was the ones who did it. And why was it that all the bomb sniffing dogs was removed 2 weeks prior to the attack…YOUR government planted bombs in there to go off as the plane hit. And the people that they said high jacked the planes was found in another country still alive.

  6. Anonymous

    You commentators are deluded. You in particular, Ashley Tillock (the US govt. planted bombs in the towers, riiiiiight…) Keep on denying that Bush and Lincoln are similar, because Lincoln was great and Bush sucks. In his time, LINCOLN SUCKED TOO.

  7. Anonymous

    I think you omit several important similarities. Originally the Civil War was purely about keeping the Union in tack. After several years of fighting it became unpopular and so Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and changed the reason they were fighting the war. Overnight it became a moral war about slavery. Sound familiar?

    And what about his war time strategy? Lincoln had to go through MANY generals before he found Grant just as Bush went through a few before he found Petraeus.

    My favorite is how you glossed over the civil liberties similarities by simply saying it will be debated by other people. What Lincoln did was far worse than what Bush was even accused of doing (which was largely in the imagination of the ACLU).

    Why don’t you sit down and write an honest comparison about Lincoln and Bush? (Probably because you would hate to admit that they are more alike than different and that history will eventually be kind to President Bush.)

  8. tony Kellam

    the real test will be, will Bush’s ghost haunt any place that might get noticed?

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